Responding to area concerns, on September 25th I wrote a letter noting, in part, many area residents had a perception of widespread incompetence, conflict of interest and even personal bias at administrative levels of government.
Several people had also commented that cabinet ministers receiving personal benefits from commercial interests in any Yukon community should not be making decisions affecting those communities.
Shortly after publication of this letter, I called Watson Lake MLA Dennis Fentie to seek assistance in finding a home for our local ambulance.
To my complete surprise, he responded with what can only be described as a fit of screaming rage, loud enough to be heard by others standing nearby.
Avoiding the question completely, he accused me of slandering him and his government and repeatedly asked if I had been drinking.
Obviously, when elected to any political office, an expectation of criticism forms part of the exercise.
It seemed I had unexpectedly touched a nerve, or unearthed a hidden secret of some kind.
So unless Fentie, our premier, is willing to draft an acceptable accountability act forthwith, it could very well confirm suspicions he and his cabinet might, indeed, have many secrets to hide from the public.
Our major problems began after the 2002 election.
As premier, Fentie appointed two former Watson Lake residents, Elaine Taylor, and hotelier Archie Lang to his cabinet, adding Peter Jenkins, a hotelier from Dawson, as well.
At the first sitting of the legislature, in February 2003, it appeared that, because of outstanding government loans, two ministers had a conflict of interest.
Eventually, Fentie removed Jenkins from cabinet. But, rather than dismissing Lang, he decided to simply nix the Yukon Ethics and Accountability bill, stating, at the time, “accountability planning exercises were just too time consuming and onerous.”
So, using his majority, it was defeated.
He and his cabinet have continued to rule Yukon, appearing to be cloaked in an atmosphere of secrecy and mystery ever since.
Our only saving grace, as always, are the committed people we have in our public service who manage to keep government functioning and continue to be helpful and accommodating to the public in spite of edicts from higher ranking administrators.
Monopoly is no stranger to our community.
A few years ago, Lang, as the owner of the Watson Lake Hotel, purchased the only other two hotels in town, eliminating the competition.
He later was thought to be involved in the purchase of Watson Lake Foods.
He has since sold the hotels, and Watson Lake Foods remains the only retail grocery outlet in the region.
Public records show the numbered company that actually sold the three hotels list Patrick Irvin, of Watson Lake, as its president, Archibald Lang, of Whitehorse, as secretary and Karen Lang, of Whitehorse, as a director-other.
Records also show that Watson Lake Foods Ltd. lists Karen Lang, of Whitehorse, as president, and Patrick Irvin as secretary treasurer.
Like Fentie before him, Irvin is also an influential director of the local chamber of commerce.
It has often been remarked that, as Community Services Minister, Archie Lang has not made an official visit to Watson Lake in recent memory.
“A public office holder is in a conflict of interest when he or she exercises an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further his or her private interests, or those of his or her relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests.”
For some reason, there’s a perception Fentie and Lang are reluctant to support the establishment of a proposed new business commercial district for Watson Lake.
In the absence of an onsite MLA, many residents have asked for my assistance.
The only way we have recently been able to get government attention about our problems has been through letters published in the media.
In fact, the last time Fentie held a public meeting in Watson Lake was on the occasion of his premier’s tour on October 15th. Reportedly, his visits are usually to attend chamber of commerce luncheons, then quickly flying back to Whitehorse, with no public meetings whatsoever.
It appears he might just be too preoccupied with his duties as premier to care much about the welfare of the ordinary citizens of our community who elected him in the first place.
In fact, how can any MLA be accountable if they fail to meet with their constituents on a regular basis, providing information about government activities and answering public questions or concerns?
It makes us wonder if similar situations might exist elsewhere in Yukon?
More than a year ago, it was reported that money might be available through the Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund for upgrading sewer and water services.
Unfortunately, two dominating members of town council rejected the expenditure, feeling the town share was too expensive.
It is interesting to note that both are employed by the Yukon government, administering government lands.
One is even designated as contact person by the local chamber of commerce.
So, after four years of asking, local taxpayers are still unsure if they will receive any monies at all in this year’s $1-billion budget to repair and upgrade the town’s aging sewer and water facilities.
Most can’t forget it was the Fentie government that reportedly wasted at least $5 million on its hospital fiasco.
It obviously raises the question, if the accountability bill had been passed, would this have ever been allowed to occur in the first place?
Fentie and his cabinet, two dominating town councillors and a very few influential nonelected individuals in our community have been consistently and effectively controlling the direction and conduct of our local affairs for far too long, and there is no visible accountability at all.
Hopefully, the election of a proactive new council next October will help to change this situation.
Unfortunately, the next opportunity to elect a new MLA is still 2.5 years away.
In the meantime, Watson Lake would very much welcome and appreciate any help it can get in encouraging restoration of our community to its former vibrant and important place in Yukon society.
I leave it to you and your readers to consider these facts and draw your own conclusions.
Donald E. Taylor,